The great English poet William Wordsworth in his famous ‘Ode to Nature’ wisely said “The child is father of the man”. Many of us consider children as the future of a nation who are supposed to enjoy fair and equal rights under all circumstances. Nurturing children in a proper manner through ensuring his or her basic rights and welfare promises their healthy upbringing which shall eventually enable them to hone their creativity and innovation which is a must for building a thriving nation as a whole. But today we come across numerous incidents where children are directly involved, and due to the fast paced information age we live in, it is really difficult for such children to escape media’s attention.
The influence of media in shaping people’s perception requires no special mentioning and thus is looked upon for structuring a supportive and constructive attitude towards children. With a single stroke of their pen, journalists can bring the entire population including the government and civil society under the same umbrella in raising awareness, generating public opinion, behavioral changes and demands for special support services. The noble profession of journalism by every means should incorporate ethics and morality which includes shunning yellow journalism as well as avoiding stereotyping the victims.
Since children issues are the most sensitive and delicate area, the responsibility does not end in reporting fairly and accurately only. The overall portrayal of children leaves a profound impact on society’s attitude towards children which also contributes to the psychological development of the children. The cooperation of the media organizations and journalists and their orientation towards safeguarding the rights and the dignity of children is extremely important for all who strive for wider recognition of children’s rights. As an active watchdog of the society, media must take care of the consequences of their reporting and hence ensure proper protection of the stakes of the children and due justice wherever applicable.
It is however of great regret that, the media reports we often get to see concerning children overlooks and lacks observing many important aspects related to a child’s life and his rights. Media works, be it print or electronic, mostly transact with the gloomy part of a child. Most of the reports or news items are seen to have very little depth and are dealt in ignorance of the child rights protected under different national and international legal instruments.
The MRDI – UNICEF baseline study on children in Bangladeshi news media shows that only 13% of the total news stories surveyed involved in-depth reporting on children. It shows that one –third of the reports that are made on sexual repression, reporters clearly mentioned the victims’ addresses and other information that can lead to reveal their identity which completely violates section 17 of the Children Act 1974 -“No report in any newspaper, magazine or news-sheet nor any news giving agency shall disclose any particular of any case or proceeding in any Court under this Act in which a child is involved and which leads directly or indirectly to the identification of such child, nor shall any picture of such child be published…”.
The MRDI-UNICEF survey also revealed media reports on drug addiction containing thorough description on drug, their potential access points and the sensation derived, which did not even spare the explicit visual contents showing children taking drugs.
Children nowadays make headlines for their alleged involvement in anti social activities or crime while girls are depicted mostly as victims of repression, but not for their positive role towards the society which undoubtedly put the child rights and welfare at a stake.
In Bangla newspapers we often see that journalists at times use certain words to narrate the brutality of a rape or assault incident which involves a child and often present the victim in a disgraceful manner. These words however lead to arouse sex appeal among the readers.
In many newspaper reports street children are described as Tokai”.
Pathetic but true, the very age of children is not yet officially defined in Bangladesh. The Draft National Child Policy (2010) defines anyone under 18 as a child. However, the Suppression of Repression against Women and Children Act, 2000 and the very Children Act 1974 label children as anyone under the age of 16. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which came into force in 1990 has determined the universal age limit for children as 18. Despite being one of the first 22 countries to ratify this convention, Bangladesh is yet lagging behind in conforming the conventions accordingly. The journalists while dealing with news related to children be it direct or indirect should abide by the UNCRC’s definition.
The UNCRC again emphasizes on ensuring equal human rights as provisioned for the adults, but in reality what we see is the rare ability for the children to exercise these rights without support. In general it appreciates the role of mass media as a positive one in child development.
As outlined in the convention that is directly relevant to the journalists is children’s right to privacy, that, states are expected to legislate to protect the privacy of children as well as to protect them from slander and libel. Article 16 of the UNCRC clearly says “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.”
The media fraternity should have clear understanding about these conventions, comply to the provisions and protocols to maintain while covering a story involving children as victims in this regard. Stories particularly highlighting crime, trial and other sensitive issues are bound to be treated under the specific domestic laws that exist.
Practicing journalism whilst maintaining ethics means acting for the betterment of the society. Ethics in journalism is shaped in accordance with professional judgment, demands of taste and conscience and humanity and accountability. The priority, according to ethical journalism, is not to harm the child while revealing the truth. It is now time that the concerned media bodies gear up to strictly follow their own moral decisions and question their conscience on the due ethics they are to practice.
Edited by Team Intellect
The story was first published in INTELLECT Issue no.2, dated July 2012.